There are pizza places, and then there are pizza places — ones that truly become neighborhood institutions, both because of their owners’ connection to the community and because of the quality of the food.
Bay Ridge Pizza is one of those.
Established 40 years ago by Sal and Tony Tumminello (who both still come in weekly), the eatery — today run by Sal’s son Gaspare — features an array of classic and contemporary Italian dishes with a Sicilian accent, with numerous pizza variations including gluten-free (gluten-free pasta is also available) meant to tantalize the palate and also cater to today’s tastes and concerns.
Like many other pizzerias, Bay Ridge Pizza, said Tumminello, started as a “small local pizzeria with a small menu.” Over the years, he went on, the menu was expanded to include the wide range of offerings now available, including beer and wine
Tumminello was there through all of that. He began coming to the pizzeria as a young boy, helping out with tasks like making boxes, then, after he completed college, unsure what he wanted to do, he “decided to stay here for a while.”
As it turned out, he never left. “Over the years, we have taken it up a notch. We started doing catering, sandwiches, pasta dishes. About 15 years ago, we started with panini, six-foot heroes and gluten free, and we’re now on social media, Instagram and Facebook.
“We took a little bit of old world tradition and mixed it with new world technology and today’s new palate,” Tumminello added. “We try to keep the old-fashioned ways. That’s what’s kept us on the block for 40 years.”
The innovations may have broadened the menu but they didn’t impact the quality. “Quality always has got to come first,” he contended, stressing that “everything is made fresh. Everything is homemade here.”
And, he added, while the pizzeria is now online, that doesn’t mean it’s lost the personal touch. “We still like customers to come in and say hello,” he said, pointing out diners who are in for a slice or a meal several times a week.
“I see kids I grew up with bringing in their kids,” Tumminello added. “That says a lot to me.”
I sampled several of Bay Ridge Pizza’s specialties. The Baked Clams ($6.95 for six; $12.95 for 12) were redolent with garlic. Bathed in a lemon juice and olive oil sauce, they came out topped with golden crusted bread crumbs for a preparation that was as traditional as it was impeccable.
I tried both the regular and the Grandma slice, fresh from the oven, piping hot and crispy. The traditional slice ($2.75) was topped with a thick, indulgent, gooey layer of cheese that contrasted opulently with the crispy crust. The Grandma slice ($2.75) — in which the cheese is buried under a layer of sauce — switched up the focus; it too had a wonderfully thin and crispy crust that left me wanting seconds.
The Chicken Francese ($12.95, including pasta) was lemony and tender, garnished with lemon slices so it was as appealing to the eye as it was to the palate.
I also enjoyed the Penne alla Vodka ($8.95), cooked perfect al dente and blanketed with a sweet, creamy tomato-based sauce.
Finally, I dug into the Caesar Salad ($5.50 for one; $7.50 for two), which showcased crispy Romaine lettuce and crunchy croutons in a lively creamy dressing.
On another note, Bay Ridge Pizza really takes its gluten-free offerings seriously. With over 50 gluten free pizza options to choose from, Tumminello says the pies are made on separate pans and cut with a knife never used on traditional pizza. They also serve gluten free beer, said Tumminello.
BAY RIDGE PIZZA
7704 Fifth Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11209
Sunday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-midnight
Friday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m.